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The Isuzu Vehicross: That Time Isuzu Put a Concept Car Into Production

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author photo by Aaron Gold March 2017

I've already talked about my love for the Lexus LC 500 (and, more specifically, my preference for the hybrid over the V8, known round these Oversteer parts as "the love that dare not speak its name"). One of the reasons I'm such a fan is that the LC looks so much like the concept car that preceded it -- although I suppose such a sentiment has less meaning nowadays, what with companies that shall remain unnamed (coughHONDAcough) shaving the door handles of production models and calling them concepts.

Anyway.

There was a time when concepts were real dream-mobiles, and we knew none of them would ever see production...until the time that one of them did. The concept car in question was the Isuzu VehiCross.

The VehiCross was originally shown in concept form at the 1993 Tokyo Auto Show. It was -- as concept cars tended to be in those days -- completely insane and very, very cool. The auto press figured they were getting a look at the future of Isuzu styling, and went on to find the shrimp buffet.

And then, in 1997, Isuzu put the thing in production for the home market of Japan.

Those who were expecting a watered-down version would be incorrect. The production VehiCross looked a lot like the concept. The wheels were pushed inwards slightly, the roofline was a bit more robust, and the whole thing looked slightly less emaciated, but other than that, it was the concept car.

These were the days when Americans were routinely denied some of the coolest cars in Japan (and, if you like miniscule cars with silly names, you might argue that those days are still happening). So we were all blown away when we found out that Isuzu was bringing the VehiCross to the U.S. for the 1999 model year.

This was when my career was still in its infancy, and naturally I did whatever I needed so that I could spend a week with one. How was it? Friggin' fantastic -- it was, after all, basically an Isuzu Trooper, albeit one with no rearward visibility. (The built-in spare tire holder reduced the back window to a tiny slit.) The interior was fairly conventional, though it was done up in bright red and black. The VehiCross had a fairly sophisticated four-wheel-drive system with electronic control; these are common today, but it was a real novelty back then. It was reasonably roomy, good fun to drive and a great off-roader.

Did it sell well? Of course not. Being a 3-door, the VehiCross wasn't very useful -- and this was right around the time when people were starting to get sick of the Rodeo, causing Isuzu sales to begin their slow, inevitable circling of the drain. Isuzu kept the VehiCross in production for just three years, and they sold just over 4,000 of them in the U.S. (and less than half that many in Japan).

VehiCrosses are still around; last month I spotted two in one week in my home town of Los Angeles (which prompted both fond memories and this article). And you know what? The thing still looks pretty darn cool. Roll it onto the turntable at an auto show, and I bet you could still pass it off as the latest and greatest Isuzu concept -- albeit to a new generation of car fans who would most likely say "Uh...what's an Isuzu?"

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The Isuzu Vehicross: That Time Isuzu Put a Concept Car Into Production - Autotrader